Saturday, October 19, 2019

Taking your medicine

A single moment can change your day, and it doesn’t even need to be that big a moment.

Take yesterday morning.  It was the first time that our kindergartner could wear something other than his school uniform or his PE clothes, and unlike most mornings he eagerly got dressed. The theme was dots (or circles) and he had his red Flash shirt (with the lightning bolt through a circle, but in the design the circle diffused into dots).  He even picked out shorts and socks that had some such pattern.  He was really into it.

As we were wrapping things up before it was time to leave, Mommy asked if he’d had some medicine and he had not; this week he had been coughing some with occasionally runny nose. As she finished getting ready in the living room, I went and poured some into the little cup. She sent him over to the kitchen where I was, and he looked at the cup and said, “That’s more than zero.” I didn’t think much about that and simply replied, “Yes, now here.” As we were running short on time and he was hesitating, I put the cups to his lips and tilted it so the medicine would run down into his mouth.

He then closed his mouth and it spilt down on his shirt and shorts in large globs that did not look like dots.

In frustration I exclaimed, “Well, that could not have gone worse.”

Mommy came over to see what was happening and quickly realized he’d have to change clothes—which obviously we really didn’t have time for, but he couldn’t go to school with glaring medicine stains.  So she had to scramble and find some other shirt with some circular patterns… which proved to be a Star Trek shirt with the various Federation starships and their round designs.  This was not what he was excited to wear, and there were tears.

However, mostly the tears were because he felt like I hadn’t listened, and that when he commented on the medicine being more than zero he suggested it seemed more than could be consumed in one drink.  I was too frustrated to appreciate that at the time, of course, and clearly it wasn’t that clear from what he specifically said, but in retrospect I see it.

Here I was feeling the pressure of him not being late for school and pushing him to take the medicine faster and it completely backfired, and had I just taken an extra moment it would have saved time over how things actually played out.

So as we went out to Mommy’s car and I buckled him in his car seat he was not super happy with me. As my wife and son drove off I got in my car to drive to work and remained very bothered by the incident, dwelling not only on how I should have been more patient with him but also on how I’d ruined his first special dress day. Obviously he bears responsibility for how he responded, by closing his mouth and causing the spill, but ultimately he’s the kid and I’m the parent; I’m the one who’s supposed to know better. And that’s undoubtedly why it kept bothering me most of the day.

This evening when they got home, I asked my wife how he was on the morning ride, and she said he didn’t bring up sadness about having to wear the different clothes. And I was not surprised. Yes, he was upset in the moment but this wasn’t so big that he wouldn’t be able to get on with his day. Regardless of what he wore, at least it wasn’t the polo shirt that he hates (and reiterates daily so we don’t forget).

As the adult of course I sat in the driver’s seat of my car and listed all the ways the incident so easily could have been avoided (remembering to give it to him before getting dressed, or handing him the cup and allowing him to sip it), and felt guilty about having gotten upset myself.

That’s the thing about being a parent (at least in my experience): You’ll make mistakes, sure—you’re human—but you’ll feel bad about them not just in the moment but afterward because you’re supposed to be doing better. In the grand scheme this was not a moment that he’s likely to remember, but I will.

It’s almost certainly not the biggest parenting mistake I will make over the course of his life, and maybe that’s also part of what concerns me. But perhaps that I’m not screwing up so bad that this incident would stay on my radar in such a way suggests I’m not doing too horrible a job.

Or I’m due for a colossal fuck-up. I guess time will tell.

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